John Tavares gives Isles a reason to believe
The Islanders faced two huge obstacles coming into this series. One was the inclination to become just happy to be in the playoffs after an unexpected run. The other was the formidable talent of the Penguins. Well, four games in, the Islanders have overcome one and are doing a heck of a job with the other.
They came in with just the right attitude, and have only enhanced it. Forget about feeling pleased with just being here for a fun ride. They are in it to win, and now that they have tied the series at two games apiece, they have every reason to believe that is possible.
Believing comes easier when a team keeps refusing to be discouraged, as the Islanders have been for months and were last night, when they twice got down by a goal.
Believing really becomes easier when you have one of the best players in the world on your team.
John Tavares makes everyone else on the Islanders better and makes them think that an event such as the 6-4 victory over the Penguins Tuesday night is entirely possible.
Tavares made a believer out of anyone who wasn't about halfway through the third period, when he took a shot and refused to stop following up on it until he hammered home the rebound for the goal that broke a 4-4 tie.
The Coliseum, which had been sparkling with electricity and shaking with noise all night, erupted in a chant of "M-V-P.''
"You have to go above and beyond sometimes,'' Tavares said of a team that has gone above and beyond wildest expectations, but isn't nearly ready to call it a day, even a nice day.
"You put so much effort to get here, and we were behind the 8-ball, obviously. There was no doubt we wanted to make the most of that opportunity,'' Tavares said. "We weren't just satisfied being here.
"We believe, in this room. We have a lot of character and a lot of guys who are stepping up for us, and that's what we need.''
If the cliche is true, the one that says reputations are sealed in the playoffs, Tavares went a long way toward securing his with that goal at 10:11 of the third period that gave the Isles a 5-4 lead.
Then again, did he really need that?
"I know him pretty well. He has definitely, every year, gotten better and better. He does a lot of things well, not just one thing in particular,'' said Sidney Crosby, the face of the NHL and the heart and soul of the Penguins.
"He's got a great shot. As we've seen a lot this year, he makes plays, he's strong. He's a complete player and he competes hard every night. He has done a great job for them and he's probably a big reason why they've had success.''
Now Tavares' team has a real shot to win this series, even though two of a potential final three games will be in Pittsburgh.
The Islanders will play there Thursday in the biggest game they have had probably in 11 years. This is what they had in mind after they had scrapped and fought to get into the playoffs, an admirable achievement that the Islanders didn't take time to stand back and admire.
"We want to win,'' Travis Hamonic said. "We have an end goal in sight just like every team in the playoffs. By no means are we just kind of happy to be here and enjoying the ride.
"It's a long series and we've prepared ourselves for that.''
The Islanders are right in it, and possibly in the heads of everyone in the Penguins' locker room.
"I don't know what they're thinking in there,'' Tavares said. "I know we've got a lot of belief in here, a lot of heart.''